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Democratic AG group wrong to shun pro-life candidates, critics say

Washington D.C., Nov 19, 2019 / 03:00 am (CNA).- Pro-life Democrats and some election-minded politicos have faulted the decision of a Democratic state attorneys general organization to support only declared pro-abortion rights candidates.

The Democratic Attorneys General Association will require candidates to make a public pro-abortion statement if they want to receive backing from the group, the association announced. The association recruits candidates and provides financial support, data analysis, messaging work and policy position development.

Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, pointed to the victory of Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, a pro-life Democrat, who won reelection by about 40,000 votes on Nov. 16.

Given his recent victory, Day told CNA, “it is clearly the wrong direction for the Democratic Attorney Generals Association to impose an abortion litmus test on democratic candidates. This is particularly concerning for a party that prides itself on diversity and inclusion.”

“Governor Edwards did not run from his pro-life position, he embraced it and was proud to promote a whole life agenda to protect and support life from womb to tomb,” Day continued. “This was a source of strength for his campaign. An abortion-rights candidate would have lost. Imposing a litmus test on candidates would force one-third of Democrats, who oppose abortion, out of the party and lessen the opportunity for Democratic gains.”

“We encourage [the Democratic Attorneys General Association] to reconsider this shortsighted and discriminatory policy and embrace a big tent policy of inclusion,” she said.

New York Attorney General Letitia James discussed the new requirement in a Nov. 17 video for the group.

“Attorneys general are on the front lines of the fight for reproductive freedom,” James said. “They have the power to protect your rights.”

Jim Hood, Attorney General of Mississippi, is the only Democratic attorney general to describe himself as a pro-life Democrat. There are 27 Democrats holding this office across the U.S.

Former U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, a two-term Democratic attorney general who lost her 2018 Senate re-election bid in a strongly Republican state, told the New York Times she thought the new policy was “wrongheaded.”

“There are very principled people, who are Democrats, who feel very strongly about this issue for religious reasons and when you say you’re not welcome in our party I think it is exclusionary,” she said. “You have to look at the totality of a candidate.”

She too cited the victory of Gov. Edwards of Louisiana. Edwards campaigned on issues including his opposition to abortion and his support for a state law barring abortion when the unborn baby’s heartbeat is detectable.

Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum of Oregon, a co-chair of the Democratic Attorneys General Association’s executive committee, voiced hope that other Democratic committees would follow the group’s example of exclusive support for pro-abortion candidates.

“We are going to be the ones to be right out in front and hopefully the other committees will follow right along,” she told the New York Times.

The Democratic Attorneys General Association policy change had been under consideration for three years. Officials with the group said the new rule will attract more diverse candidates and increase the number of women who run for attorney general. In 2017 the association pledged to ensure at least half of the party’s attorneys general will be women by 2022.

Sean Rankin, executive director of the association, contended the new requirement will increase “the size of the tent.”

“Even in states like Georgia, Texas and Arizona, we’ve run pro-choice candidates who’ve done extraordinarily well,” he told the New York Times.

While Democratic political candidates used to speak frequently of their support for legal abortion with the caveat that it should be “safe, legal and rare,” recent years have witnessed a strong turn within the party against any abortion restrictions.

Democratic presidential primary candidate and former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has renounced his support for the Hyde Amendment, which bars most taxpayer-financed Medicaid funds for abortion.

In January a Virginia legislator put forward one of the most radical abortion bills in the country that would have removed most restrictions on second and third trimester abortions, including when the mother was in labor.

Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, explaining the bill on the regional radio station WTOP, said that under the legislation, a baby that survived a botched abortion would be made “comfortable” while the mother and doctor discuss whether or not the baby would be allowed to survive. He sparked a national uproar over his comments.

A New York law just signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo bars employers from enforcing certain codes of conduct or belief in the workplace with regard to “reproductive rights,” and requires them to inform employees of their right to abortions without fear of any workplace retaliatory action.

Several plaintiffs have challenged the law, saying it singles out pro-life and religious employers by refusing to exempt them. It forces these organizations to employ people who may have publicly defied the mission of an organization, such as a church employee who publicly opposes the teachings of that church on abortion or marriage.

Cuomo has also signed a law requiring contraceptive and abortifacient coverage in employee health plans and a law strengthening legal abortion in the event federal legal precedent is overturned or modified.

In October, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a measure requiring public universities to provide free access to drug-induced abortions for students and free abortion counseling services.

Kansas Catholic Conference says Medicaid expansion needs pro-life revisions

Topeka, Kansas, Nov 19, 2019 / 12:17 am (CNA).- As Kansas considers expanding its Medicaid program, the state’s Catholic Conference said its support is contingent upon the establishment of pro-life safeguards.

Last week, the Special Committee on Medicaid Expansion - a joint House and Senate panel - held two days of hearings discussing an expansion of KanCare.

Chuck Weber, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, said in his Nov. 12 testimony that the conference cannot support the legislation unless it explicitly excludes the expansion of abortion coverage, includes conscience protections for healthcare organizations and individuals, and a state constitutional amendment is enacted to clarify that abortion is not a natural right.

There are currently an estimated 400,000 people enrolled in Medicaid in Kansas. The Medicaid expansion bill would extend eligibility to an additional 130,000 low-income adults and children, the Topeka Capital-Journal reports.

April Holman, executive director of Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, a coalition supporting the expansion, said there is an insurance gap where people cannot afford private health insurance but make too much money to qualify for Medicaid.

Weber said the current healthcare system needs to be revised, noting that hospital emergency rooms are required to accept all patients, and therefore become the primary healthcare access point for many uninsured people, which raises costs for everyone.

Even for those with health insurance, he said,  rapidly rising deductibles may lead to “crushing debt.”

But while the system needs to be updated, Weber said the proposal for Medicaid expansion presents “scientific and ethical” concerns.

The Kansas Catholic Conference will not support a Medicaid expansion proposal unless it clearly excludes expanding abortion coverage and includes conscience protections for healthcare institutions and professionals, he said.

In addition, the conference believes Kansas must adopt a state constitutional amendment clarifying that abortion is not a “natural right.” The conference believes this is necessary due to the Hodes & Nauser v. Schmidt ruling earlier this year, in which the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that abortion is a “natural right.”

Weber said the ruling established a right to “virtually unlimited abortion” and used radical language that may provide a legal gateway into physician-assisted suicide and irreversible gender transition procedures.

“This ruling raises the specter of publicly funded surgical and chemical abortion,” he said. “The medical community, not an unfettered and unregulated abortion industry, best provides authentic healthcare for vulnerable women and babies.”

During the hearing, the special committee approved a motion by Rep. Will Carpenter (R-El Dorado) to enable health care providers to decline treatments for reasons of conscience, and stating that the proposed expansion of Medicaid would not broaden abortion access, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.

 

Washington DC drops bill to legalize sex trade

Washington D.C., Nov 18, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- A bill to legalize the buying and selling of sex in Washington, DC, will not move forward after widespread opposition and concern that the bill lacked enough support of the city council to be passed. 

The Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019 (B23-0318) would have made the capital the first city in the United States to fully legalize prostitution. 

Councilman David Grosso (I-At Large), who authored the bill, said that he knew it would be an “uphill battle” to become law in D.C., but that he has not given up the issue. The Washington Post reported that Grosso thinks the bill should instead be placed on the ballot in the district and voted on by city residents. 

On November 1, Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who leads the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, which hosted a hearing on the bill, told local media WAMU9 that the council would not vote on B23-0318 this year. 

“There were incredibly sharp divisions about what the path forward would look like,” said Allen. “It did not seem to be consensus at all, and I don’t hear the support from my colleagues.”

Despite the lack of further action on the bill, Allen said that he thought it had sparked a “very important conversation” that had given “a lot of voice to a community that is already very marginalized.” 

On October 17, D.C. Council held a 14-hour hearing that included passionate testimony from people on both sides of the issue. Testifying against passing the bill included the Archdiocese of Washington, former sex workers, and Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office. 

The American Civil Liberties Union and current sex workers in DC were among the many who testified in favor of the bill’s passage. 

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) reported that the majority of the feedback his office had received about the bill was negative. He rejected claims that he had somehow rigged the DC Council to be against the legalization of prostitution. 

Mendelson said the controversy over B23-0318 was “unusually large” and that it is very rare for a hearing to stretch 14 hours with many people opposed to the bill.

“We will continue to look for ways to best serve the interest of victims,” said Mendelson. “Addressing the issue of prostitution again in this form seems unlikely.”

Venerable Fulton Sheen to be beatified in December

Peoria, Ill., Nov 18, 2019 / 02:42 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Peoria announced Monday that Venerable Fulton Sheen will be beatified Dec. 21 at the city's Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception.

Sheen had been ordained a priest of the diocese in that cathedral Sept. 20, 1919.

“It seems entirely fitting that the Beatification will take place at the end of this 100-year anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood,” the Peoria diocese stated Nov. 18.

Sheen was born in Illinois in 1895, and was 24 when he was ordained a priest.

He was appointed auxiliary bishop of New York in 1951, and he remained there until his appointment as Bishop of Rochester in 1966. He retired in 1969 and moved back to New York City until his death in 1979.

Sheen was a beloved television catechist during the 1950s and '60s in the United States. His television show “Life is Worth Living” reached an audience of millions.

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints promulgated a decree July 6 recognizing a miracle attributed to Sheen's intercession, which allowed for his beatification.

The miracle involves the unexplained recovery of James Fulton Engstrom, a boy born apparently stillborn in September 2010 to Bonnie and Travis Engstrom of the Peoria-area town of Goodfield. He showed no signs of life as medical professionals tried to revive him. The child’s mother and father prayed to Archbishop Sheen to heal their son.

The Peoria diocese opened the cause for Sheen’s canonization in 2002, after Archdiocese of New York said it would not explore the case. In 2012, Benedict XVI recognized the heroic virtues of the archbishop.

The beatification follows legal battles in civil courts over the location of Sheen's body.

His corpse was transferred to the Peoria cathedral June 27 after a protracted series of suits.

Sheen’s will had declared his wish to be buried in the Archdiocese of New York Calvary Cemetery. Soon after Sheen died, Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York asked Joan Sheen Cunningham, Sheen’s niece and closest living relative, if his remains could be placed in the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, and she consented.

In September 2014, Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria suspended Sheen’s cause on the grounds that the Holy See expected Sheen’s remains to be in the Peoria diocese.

Cunningham has since said that Sheen would have wanted to have been interred in Peoria if he knew that he would be considered for sainthood. In 2016, she filed a legal complaint seeking to have her uncle’s remains moved to the Peoria cathedral.

Our Lady unites the divided into the faithful, Cordileone says

Washington D.C., Nov 18, 2019 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- Mary unites all of God’s children, sparking conversions among those of different faiths, said Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco on Saturday, Nov. 16.

The archbishop pointed to Mary as a force for conversion and unity among different peoples at the first-ever Mass of the Americas in the Extraordinary Form, held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. 

“This Mass we celebrate today, the ‘Mass of the Americas,’ speaks profoundly to the power of our Mother to unite her children,” said Cordileone in his homily. “She stands there in every generation of the Church, interceding to her Son for her children, actively leading them to him, united as one in him.” 

The Mass of the Americas is a “twinned tribute” to both Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. It was commissioned by the Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship, and was first celebrated Dec. 8, 2018, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Since its debut, it has gone on a “Marian unity tour” throughout North America, which included a stop in Washington, DC. 

The Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship’s website states that it is an organization dedicated to “open[ing] the door of Beauty to God” through providing resources for “more beautiful and reverent liturgies” as well as “energizing a Catholic culture of the arts.” 

It was no accident that Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared as a mixed-race woman who could appeal both to native Mexicans and the Spanish settlers, and that her image resulted in the conversion of an entire country, explained Cordileone. 

“She appeared at a time of great conflict, turbulence and bloodshed, to form a new Christian people for her Son, not by the sword nor by human sacrifice, but by the love of a mother who identifies herself with her children,” he said. 

“After [the apparition] Mexico became Catholic: Our Lady of Guadalupe unites the Old World and the New, and so a new Christian people is formed from the two, a mestizo people; a new Christian civilization is born from the union brought about by her who is venerated as both la Morenita and la Inmaculada,” the archbishop said.

Cordileone also spoke about how the Church is open to all, regardless of their material worth, and that it is a chance for people to satisfy the innate human hunger for beauty. The archbishop pointed to the Extraordinary Form liturgy, music, and vestments as a form of assisting humanity in their desire for beautiful things. 

“Perhaps what the poor most lack in their lives is beauty: being dignified by that beauty which ennobles and elevates the soul, assuring them of their equal dignity as a fellow child of God whom God created in His image and likeness,” said Cordileone. 

Poverty, said the archbishop, is not just limited to a lack of material goods. “There is also spiritual poverty, a poverty of the soul. The absence of beauty and prevalence of the ugly eventually corrupts a soul, leading to spiritual misery,” he said.

Evidence of this spiritual poverty is found in increasing rates of depression, “irrational intolerance” of people with differing views, and predation of the less fortunate, he said. Despite living in the United States, “the most affluent society in the history of the world,” America is still overrun with “Anger, division, injustice and depression.” 

The Church’s three transcendentals of beauty, truth, and goodness are one way to combat this divide.

“We are happy to come together today to offer something beautiful to God and to express our love for the Mother of His Son: we give our best, because we are motivated by love, which settles for nothing less,” he said. 

“And here our Blessed Mother is once again uniting us: the poor with the well-to-do and the in between, from every nation, race, people and tongue.”

What the cluck? Chick-Fil-A sauces Christian charities

Washington D.C., Nov 18, 2019 / 01:45 pm (CNA).- American fast-food chain Chick-Fil-A has announced it will stop donating to two large faith-based charitable organizations, after years of criticism from LGBT groups.

On Monday, the Chick-Fil-A Foundation announced the organizations it would donate to in 2020. Notably, the foundation will no longer donate to the Salvation Army or to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Instead, the foundation has pledged $9 million each to Junior Achievement, Covenant House International, and local food banks near new Chick-Fil-A locations. 

“The Foundation will no longer make multi-year commitments and will reassess its philanthropic partnerships annually to allow maximum impact,” said the Chick-Fil-A Foundation in a press release. “These partners could include faith-based and non-faith-based charities.” 

Previously, the Chick-Fil-A Foundation had donated to support the Salvation Army and Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and had signed multi-year commitments with each organization. According to a statement provided to Business Insider from Chick-Fil-A, those deals were fulfilled in 2018 and were not renewed. 

The donations to Salvation Army and Fellowship of Christian Athletes were earmarked for specific programs that would assist underprivileged children.

Both the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Salvation Army promote the Biblical belief that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. Fellowship of Christian Athletes includes on its application for employment the organization's belief that God does not approve of same-sex relationships or premarital sex. 

The Salvation Army denies allegations that it is an anti-gay organization, and says that its charitable services are available to all, regardless of sexual orientation. 

Chick-Fil-A has faced considerable controversy regarding its past charitable donations. In 2012, after the founder of Chick-Fil-A stated his opposition to same-sex marriage, there were calls for a nationwide boycott of the chain. This boycott largely failed, and Chick-Fil-A is now the third-largest restaurant chain in the country in terms of systemwide sales, trailing only McDonald’s and Starbucks. 

After the outcry in 2012, Chick-Fil-A announced that it would no longer be supporting some  organizations link to traditional views on marriage through its WinShape Foundation. The chain continued to provide support for both the Salvation Army and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. 

Chick-Fil-A’s donation history has been cited in efforts to block the restaurant from opening locations in San Antonio and Buffalo’s airports. The opening of the company’s first restaurant in United Kingdom was met with extended protests by LGBT campaigners. The owners of the U.K. shopping center hosting the Chick-Fil-A announced that the lease would not be renewed after the six month trial. 

Chick-Fil-A is closed on Sundays to give the chain’s workers a chance to attend religious services and be with their families.

Lawsuit filed over latest New York abortion law

Albany, N.Y., Nov 18, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Several pro-life organizations in New York have sued the state over a law they say targets pro-life and religious employers, barring them from reflecting their core beliefs in hiring policies.

“No government has the right to tell pro-life or religious organizations they must hire someone who doesn’t agree with their core mission,” Ken Connelly, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, said Monday. ADF is representing the plaintiffs in the case.

On Novemebr 14, a New York-based crisis pregnancy center and Baptist church, along with a national association of pregnancy care centers, filed a lawsuit over New York’s new law SB 660, signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on November 8. 

The law bars employers from enforcing certain codes of conduct or belief in the workplace with regard to “reproductive rights,” and requires them to inform employees of their right to abortions without fear of any workplace retaliatory action.

The law, plaintiffs say, singles out pro-life and religious employers by refusing to exempt them. It forces these organizations to continue employ people who may have publicly defied the mission of an organization—for example, an employee at a pro-life crisis pregnancy center who has an abortion, or a church employee who publicly opposes the teachings of that church on abortion or marriage.

“New York is directly demeaning religious pro-life pregnancy centers and other faith-based organizations—like religious schools, Catholic hospitals, and even churches—by ordering them to violate their beliefs in key personnel and leadership decisions,” Connelly said.

The lawsuit’s plaintiffs include CompassCare, a Rochester-based pregnancy center, First Bible Baptist Church in Hilton, and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), an association of pregnancy care centers which has 41 member centers in New York.

Under SB 660, employers are prevented from taking adverse action against employees for “reproductive health” decisions such as having abortions. In addition, they cannot require employees to sign any document conditioning their employment upon such decisions, such as workplace codes of conduct prohibiting having an abortion.

This would mean that religious institutes and pro-life organizations, among others, could not institute workplace codes of conduct prohibiting abortion, nor could they terminate the employment of employees for having an abortion, in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure, or vasectomy.

Under the law, employers would have to notify employees of their rights in this regard, in workplace handbooks.

“SB 660 intentionally and by design sacrifices the associational, speech, and religious freedom of employers in New York State—including religious non-profits, churches, and schools— to the government’s desire to promote abortion rights by gutting the ability of pro-life employers to hire to their pro-life missions,” the plaintiffs’ brief states.

“To fulfill their missions, Plaintiffs hire employees who agree with, personally adhere to, and effectively convey organizational beliefs regarding reproductive health decisions, including but not limited to decisions related to abortion, contraceptive use, and sexual morality,” the brief says.

The bill was supported by Planned Parenthood as a measure that would protect women’s access to abortion.

“Gov. Cuomo’s message to pro-life New Yorkers is loud and clear: The abortion agenda of Planned Parenthood trumps the lives of the unborn, and anyone who disagrees will be forced to bow to the state’s orthodoxy by force of law,” Connelly said.

A spokesman for Gov. Cuomo told CNA that the governor “enacted the law to ensure employers cannot discriminate or interfere in the personal medical and reproductive health care decisions of employees, and we will vigorously defend the law and the important protections it provides to all New Yorkers."

The spokesman called the lawsuit "frivolous and quite frankly ridiculous, and we expect it to be dismissed by the court."

Cuomo, a Catholic, has signed into law a series of pro-abortion bills in 2019, of which SB 660 is the latest.

On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the state legislature passed—and Gov. Cuomo signed—the Reproductive Health Act (SB 240) to applause from observers in the gallery. The law granted almost unlimited access to abortion in New York.

The law codified Roe to keep abortion legal if the decision is overturned by the Supreme Court, and allowed abortions after 24 weeks gestation in cases of a lack of “fetal viability” or when the mother’s health is at risk—a broad exemption that critics said could allow for many abortions-on-demand up until the birth of the child.

Doctors would not have conscience rights to object to performing abortions, and abortions could be performed by non-doctors under the law, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York noted after the law’s passage.

Albany bishop Edward Scharfenberger warned that Catholic legislators’ support for the bill “threatens to rupture” their “communion” with the Church, and separately wrote Gov. Cuomo that “[a]lthough in your recent State of the State address you cited your Catholic faith and said we should ‘stand with Pope Francis,’ your advocacy of extreme abortion legislation is completely contrary to the teachings of our pope and our Church.”

This year, Cuomo also signed a law requiring contraceptive and abortifacient coverage in employee health plans.

Alasdair MacIntyre: True friendships are rare, but possible

South Bend, Ind., Nov 17, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- For Aristotle, the definition of perfect friendship was so narrow that precious few could achieve it.

In order to have a perfect friendship between two people, Aristotle said that both must be models of goodness and virtue, willing the good of the other and loving each other for their own sake.

He also thought these levels of virtue and goodness could only be achieved by a narrow slice of the population: namely, the Greek male elite. Women, non-Greeks, productive workers, and slaves were, in Aristotle’s mind, unable to achieve the levels of virtue and goodness necessary for such friendships.

Such people could have other kinds of friendships, Aristotle said – friendships of utility or pleasure – but they could never have perfect friendship.

It was this view of friendship with which moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre took issue in his Nov. 8 address at the di Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture’s 20th annual conference, which this year had the theme of friendship.

“For (perfect) friendships, so Aristotle tells us, we have to be good in ways and to a degree that...if we’re honest, many of us know that we’re not,” MacIntyre said.

“Aristotle allows that...we can, without being good, participate in friendships of mutual utility or of shared pleasure, but even this should be depressing for many of us,” he added, “for what we need on the most important occasions when we need friendship...are friendships sustained by a good deal more than the possibility of mutual utility or of shared pleasure.”

MacIntyre pointed to other still unsatisfactory definitions of friendship, such as that from Dale Carnegie, who wrote the 1936 book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

But what Carnegie suggests will not help one have real friends, MacIntyre said, but will manufacture “a certain kind of superficial sociability, a sociability which no one of integrity could confuse with friendship.” Such friendships, he added, might be compared to someone who is a Facebook friend and nothing more.

Friedrich Nietzsche, on the other hand, concludes that “yes there are friends, but it’s error and deception regarding yourself that led them to you, and they must have learned how to keep silent in order to remain your friend.”

With these different definitions and ideas of friendship, what then does it mean to truly be a friend? While hoping to broaden the scope of friendship beyond that which is available to the Greek male elite, MacIntyre said there are still many types of relationships that, while friendly, are not true friendships.

Such relationships include, for example, those between coworkers, where a certain amount of friendliness is helpful in achieving common goals and completing tasks together, or relationships between parents and children, between siblings, or between members of groups such as rock climbers, people in a choir, or members of a surgical team, MacIntyre said.

Those in such relationships “only care for each other because they are collaborators in some particular role. They do not care for each other as she or he is in themselves, apart from whatever role they happen to be playing at any particular time. This alone is sufficient to distinguish such relationships from friendships,” he added.

With such relationships being so prolific in our lives, MacIntyre said some may be tempted to wonder what the use is of another kind of friendship after all.

In his response to this question, MacIntyre said that because human beings are dependent rational animals who need to be able to make good judgements about themselves and the world in order to flourish, a key element of true friendship then is the ability to tell one another the truth.

“Insofar as our minds are not so informed, we’re liable to go astray in a variety of ways, to be victims of ignorance, arrogance, deception and self-deception. We become unable to flourish and we become unable to recognize that we are unable to flourish. We make bad decisions, for we can hope to avoid bad decision making only by deliberating in the company of a certain kind of other,” he said.

This other - a true friend - must not only be a “perceptive inquirer” and “scrupulously truthful,” they must “care enough about us and about our flourishing as human agents to insist on us, too, being truthful, so with their help, we may become able to correct our mistakes and to free ourselves from our illusions.”

True friendships must also be uncalculating of the costs and benefits of the relationship, and must be relationships in which “each friend genuinely cares both for the other and for the good of the other and finds in this caring a sufficient reason for acting as she or he does,” MacIntyre added.

St. Thomas Aquinas, MacIntyre noted, was also able to “correct” some of Aristotle's deficiencies in his definition of friendship by recognizing that people possess various virtues in varying degrees, and that grace and charity can account for some of the ways baptized persons act that go beyond either their natural inclinations towards virtue or their moral education in the virtues, which allows for a broader understanding of friendship.

“So a more recognizable portrait of humanity emerges - and one sometimes wonders how many people Aristotle had actually met,” MacIntyre said.

This more recognizable view of humanity is “one in which moral education has become the work of a lifetime, and moral failure in this or that respect is a recurrent and characteristic feature of our lives. It matters, of course, that Aquinas writes as a Christian theologian and therefore is someone for whom their sinfulness is one of the key facts about human beings,” he added.

This more flexible view of humanity also allows that good friendships can be schools of virtue, rather than just something that occurs between two people who have already achieved perfect virtue, because these friendships are “a means to self-knowledge. Friendships survive and flourish...only if each friend can rely on the other's truthfulness. And without the self-knowledge that is one result of such truthfulness we're all of us apt to become victims of our own self-indulgent fantasies,” he said.

An additional key element of a true friendship is that it is a gift, MacIntyre said. A gift is freely given, and must be received. This means that one must be open to the possibility of friendship with others, and recognize the opportunity of friendship when it occurs.

This requires a responsiveness to others, as well as a willingness to be surprised or disappointed along the way, he noted. It means letting go of pride, or of greed or an unnecessary competitiveness with others, he added.

“Yet what above all else stands in the way of openness to friendship is insincerity,” MacIntyre said. An insincere person is an actor of sorts, he noted. An insincere person is not necessarily a liar, but they have convinced others and sometimes themselves that they are something or someone that they are not.

“An insincere person invites others to respond not to their reality, but the sometimes impressive fiction that they have constructed. So the other is put at a disadvantage and when the invitation extended to the other is or includes an offer a friendship, what is offered cannot, in fact, be friendship. For one is being invited to care for a fiction, not for a real human being,” he said.

A final characteristic of a true friend is that they care not only for their friend, but for all that their friend cares about, MacIntyre said, quoting Aquinas: "When the man has friendship for someone for his sake, he loves all belonging to it, whether children, servants or related to him in any way."

“Indeed, so much do we love our friends, but for their sake we love all who belonged to them,” MacIntyre said.

And so with these defining characteristics of a good friendship, they still may be difficult to find in today’s world, MacIntyre said, but they are possible and necessary for human flourishing.

“Each of us needs such others if we are able to deliberate well and to make good choices. Each of us needs such others if we are to achieve the self-knowledge without which we can’t flourish.”

Development of prison catechesis program draws strong support

Houston, Texas, Nov 17, 2019 / 03:05 am (CNA).- It took a Catholic evangelist just three days to raise the funds online for an apologetics and faith formation curriculum to distribute to prisons— a place where he says Biblical apologetics are sorely needed.

Michael Gormley, host of the podcast “Catching Foxes” and adult faith formation director for St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in the Houston area, told CNA that the goal of the curriculum is to weave the Gospel message with apologetics and catechesis.

“There's such a need for Biblical apologetics [in prison],” he said.

“The majority of people are leaving the Catholic faith either for an anti-Catholic fundamentalist Christian faith, or for Islam. Islam is mostly big in the jails...and we have almost zero presence in jails. And it's shocking, it's just shocking.”

Gormley said the goal is to adapt a faith formation series that he originally created for Ascension Press.

He said he hopes to adapt the series to be more relevant to men and women in prison, offering instruction for those who want to learn more about Catholicism about how to frame their lives around Christian discipleship. He said he hopes to reach inmates who have already been inspired by prison ministry volunteers to say, “I’m interested in this Catholic thing, what’s next?”

“My hope is to be able to pull out a coherent curriculum from beginning to end, chopping the videos up and maybe adding new things into the mix as we go,” he said.

Gormley said the opportunity recently came “out of nowhere” to buy the rights to the series from Ascension, so he launched a GoFundMe page to raise the $10,000 necessary— and it took him only three days to reach the initial goal.

In fact, it only took one minute of the fundraiser being live for one donor to offer $5,000— half the funds needed.

Gormley stressed that although the campaign had reached its initial funding goal, the GoFundMe is still accepting donations because more is still needed to allow the project to continue.

Any additional funds beyond those used to buy the rights to the series, he said, will go directly to printing DVDs— Internet-based videos aren’t an option for prisons— as well as for workbooks and other production costs.

“On top of your donation dollars to all your different nonprofits, and churches, and charities, really keep an eye to prison ministries,” he said.

He said there are around 110 prison units in Texas, but only one full-time Catholic chaplain.

Gormley said he goes with a group to a prison every Monday, offering a few hours of instruction and catechesis as well as a Communion service for the Catholic inmates. He said working with inmates has changed the way that he, an educator in the faith and an evangelist, goes about sharing his faith.

“It totally changed how I do everything in my life. From being a dad, to teaching my faith, living as a witness, evangelization, it turbocharged everything, because you see grace working right in front of your eyes.”

Gormley told CNA last month that the first time he went on a retreat at a prison, through a group called Kolbe Prison Ministries, he went to a maximum security unit in Texas.

The Jim Ferguson Unit, located in Midway, Texas, has a maximum capacity of 2,100 men and mainly houses violent and gang-affiliated prisoners.

Gormley said he remembers showing up for his first retreat at 5:00 in the morning, and he and his fellow participants prayed the prayer to St. Michael before going inside because they had heard that a group of “Satanist” inmates were cursing them and their ministry.

“When you walk into these prisons, you realize you're going in to serve, at least in my case, violent offenders, many of whom are of the population where there's a high recidivism rate,” he said.

“The beautiful thing about prison ministry, at least from my limited experience, is that 2 hours into the actual retreat, I was shocked at how mundane everything was,” he continued.

“There were guys that were super talkative, guys that were disengaged, guys who were listening and quiet, guys that were dominating the conversation, and everything in between, just like a normal men's retreat. And it was that...the men quickly became very normal in my eyes from the labels that they were beforehand.”

The vast majority of the inmates participating in the retreats, he said, are non-Catholic, and he said a significant majority of those non-Catholics are “fiercely anti-Catholic.”

A large number of Latino inmates that Gormley has encountered, who may have grown up Catholic, are now “extremely anti-Catholic,” he said.

The retreats are based on testimonies that are tied to larger themes, he said. In his role as a table facilitator at the retreats, Gormley leads discussions and often fields questions and challenges from inmates about aspects of the Catholic faith.

“Every single story is insane, amazing, sad, heartrending,” he commented.

Every single man he met in the unit, with one exception, had inadequate fathers, whether by neglect, abandonment, abuse, or a combination. Almost every one of the men joined gangs, because “if they didn't have fathers, they needed brothers.” Most of the men were abandoned by the gangs they joined, too, he said.

Gormley related the story of a man in the Ferguson Unit who had joined a white supremacist gang before being locked up.

At one of the prison retreats, the inmate stood up and told the other men at the prison that he was sorry for getting into fights with his black and Latino prison mates, because he realized on a prison retreat a year ago that he didn't hate people of different races— he hated his father, who had abandoned him years earlier.

He said he forgave his father a year ago, and then asked the other prisoners to forgive him. An African-American inmate then stood up and gave the man a hug, amid tears and applause from the other inmates.

“The whole rest of the retreat was like that, stories like that,” Gormley said.

 

As Pope Francis calls for a 'synodal' Church, some US dioceses are holding synods

Baltimore, Md., Nov 16, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- As some U.S. dioceses convene local synods to discuss topics ranging from the family to evangelization, bishops are preaching the need to discover a true sense of synodality.

Pope Francis has called in recent months for a more synodal Church, suggesting that “synods,” or gatherings intended for discussion and discernment of the Church’s direction, are an important aspect of an engaged and missionary Church.

At the annual fall meeting of the U.S. bishops in Baltimore, Maryland, CNA spoke with bishops who have recently held synods or are preparing to hold them, asking them to explain what “synodality”is and  how the Holy Spirit was present at their gatherings.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit told CNA that a synod, to be an authentic exercise of discernment, has to begin with prayer, and interior conversion on the part of attendees.

A synod is not a democratic assembly to draw up a five-year plan, he said, but something much greater—a “vehicle” for the Holy Spirit to renew the church, if participants engage prayerfully to discern the will of God.

In November 2016, the Archdiocese of Detroit held a synod for the first time in almost 30 years.

Hundreds of people from around the archdiocese gathered to share thoughts on how the archdiocese could proclaim the Gospel better than it already was.

Several months afterward, Vigneron published his letter “Unleash the Gospel” as a result of the synod, outlining a pastoral plan for evangelization. Some critiques of the church he included in his letter were “a worldly notion of the church,” “fear,” and “spiritual lethargy,” while prescriptions included “docility to the Spirit,” “confidence in God,” and “apostolic boldness.”

Ultimately, the synod concluded that evangelization needs to become the very “form” of the Church in coming years, Vigneron said.

The archbishop added that the reason the archdiocesan synod was so successful was because of prayer and docility to the Holy Spirit.
 
“A synod in the history of the Church has been a privileged vehicle for the working of the Holy Spirit,” Vigneron told CNA.

Two years before the Detroit synod even took place, prayer groups were formed at the parish level to pray and fast for the upcoming gathering, asking the Holy Spirit to be present at the synod.

“We had some very extended periods of prayer and formation for anyone who was going to be a participant in the synod,” Vigneron said. “To come into the synod, a person has to undergo a conversion.”

The very “template” of a synod, he said, “is the Holy Trinity,” not a “democratic assembly.” In a synod, the bishop acts in the role of God the Father as the “leader,” allowing the lay faithful to act as a “communion of persons” while not hindering “his own setting of a direction,” he said.
 
As a result of the Detroit synod’s docility to the Holy Spirit, there has been an abundance of spiritual fruit in the archdiocese, Vigneron said.
 
“It was of inestimable worth for us to have a synod,” he told CNA on Tuesday, nearly three full years after the gathering. It “galvanized the diocese from bottom to top,” he said.
 
Meanwhile, in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, the church is preparing for a synod in 2021, through prayerful discernment, Archbishop Bernard Hebda told CNA.

In recent years, the archdiocese has dealt with the resignation of its archbishop, bankruptcy, and fallout from a serious sexual abuse crisis in the region.

Several years ago, in 2015, then-Archbishop John Nienstedt resigned after the archdiocese was charged with mishandling sexual abuse cases.

The years-long efforts to deal with the pressing clergy sex abuse crisis put other important priorities such as evangelization on the “back burner,” Archbishop Bernard Hebda said in a June letter announcing the synod.
 
Now the church needs to turn toward these priorities without abandoning its work of rebuilding from the abuse crisis, he said.
 
“Without losing sight of either the critical importance of our Catholic schools or the urgency of creating safe environments and engaging in outreach to those who have in any way been harmed by the Church, we now need to be deliberate in moving forward on other fronts,” Hebda wrote.
 
A diocesan synod, Hebda said, draws from the 1983 revised Code of Canon Law and can be “a tool for the bishop to engage the People of God (laity, clergy, consecrated men and women, and bishops all walking together) in exercising the responsibility that flows from our common baptism, always in the hope of strengthening the communion that is the Church.”
 
In preparation for the synod, 20 listening and prayer events have been scheduled, seven of which have already taken place, Hebda told CNA. He plans to attend each session, with auxiliary bishop Andrew Cozzens attending most of them.
 
Each gathering lasts around three hours, he said, the first half of which is spent in guided prayer followed by small group discussions for the second half. Discussions feature participants sharing their view of God’s blessings and challenges in their lives, and where God is leading the church.
 
Attendance at the sessions has been greater than expected, Hebda said, and the results of the meetings will be collated for discussion at the parish level next fall.
 
Some of the main points of discussion have been concern for baptized Catholics who have drifted away from the faith—especially among youth and young adults—as well as “connecting catechesis and evangelization” and “the importance of liturgy as a means of drawing people to the truth of the faith,” Hebda said.
 
He emphasized trying to help the lay faithful listen to the Holy Spirit and to discover the “gifts” God is bestowing upon the lay faithful, and “seeing that as a possibility for really hearing what it is that the Lord wants us to know and to do.”
 
Healing from the abuse crisis has also been a point of discussion at the meetings, Hebda said, as at most events attendees hear from a “victim survivor of abuse.”